Africa

NORTHERN EXPOSURE

Job Sikhala fundraising drive launched amid fresh calls for severely ill politician’s release from Zimbabwe prison

Job Sikhala fundraising drive launched amid fresh calls for severely ill politician’s release from Zimbabwe prison
Opposition member of Parliament and a critic of the Zimbabwe government Job Sikhala arrives at the Harare Magistrates' Court in Harare, Zimbabwe, 3 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

Zimbabwean political leader Job Sikhala is severely ill, according to his legal team, but remains in custody at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

The opposition politician for the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) and lawyer has been in prison since 14 June 2022, when he was arrested for charges arising from his own investigation into the murder of the late opposition activist Moreblessing Ali.

Job Sikhala’s lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, told Daily Maverick that a doctor had seen him [Sikhala] on Monday, 9 October. “He has severe high blood pressure, leg pain that the doctor says is from the high blood pressure, and he is bleeding internally,” said Nkomo.

Sikhala has been in Harare’s notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison without a custodial conviction for more than 400 days and has been denied bail, even though bail is a constitutional right, said Nkomo.

The prison is notorious for alleged mistreatment and human rights abuses, with detainees claiming they are subject to horrific conditions, including a lack of basic sanitation and food, as well as arbitrary beatings by prison guards. Nkomo said there had been no reaction from the Zimbabwean government regarding calls to release Sikhala or about his health. 

Politically motivated incarceration

Sikhala, a militant opposition figure known for his confrontational style of politics, has been instrumental in drumming up urban support for the CCC. 

He has been arrested more than 60 times, with a Harare court describing him as a habitual offender.

Sikhala’s arrest has drawn widespread criticism, with critics saying it is politically motivated and another government crackdown on opposition politicians.

Zimbabwean author, activist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga arrives for a trial at the Harare Magistrates’ Court in Zimbabwe, 4 August 2022. Dangarembga is accused for protesting against Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on 31 July 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

During her acceptance speech for the Africa Freedom Prize on 5 October, award-winning Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga championed Sikhala’s cause, calling for those who are skilled in campaigning for the release of unjustly imprisoned individuals to contact her.

“Moreblessing Ali was abducted in broad daylight on May 24 2022 by known Zanu-PF members. The state downplayed the abduction, claiming that one of the abductors was the deceased’s former boyfriend [they said] the abduction was a domestic affair. Here we see the misogyny that is endemic in oppressive regimes,” she said.

“Job Sikhala represented the Ali family in the abduction case. Dissatisfied with the way the state handled the matter, Sikhala conducted investigations that led to the recovery of Ali’s dismembered remains in a well on a property belonging to the mother of one of the men last seen with Ali. Job was arrested at Ali’s funeral and imprisoned without bail. In May this year he was found guilty of obstruction of justice and received a suspended six-month jail sentence, but remains in pretrial incarceration on other charges,” Dangarembga added in her acceptance speech.

Sikhala is currently awaiting trial for two other charges of incitement to commit violence and disorderly conduct. The ruling for the charge of incitement to commit public violence will be delivered on 19 October 2023, and the ruling for disorderly conduct will be delivered on 27 October 2023.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Tsitsi Dangarembga: ‘My core is the business of increasing citizen agency’ in Zimbabwe

Calls for Sikhala’s release

CCC leader Nelson Chamisa has made fresh calls for Sikhala’s release following reports about his ill health. On Monday afternoon, Chamisa wrote on X that he was “deeply concerned” about Sikhala’s condition and appealed to leaders within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to intervene.

“The oppressors have callously disregarded our pleas in the past and so I now call on the international community, particularly leaders within SADC, to express concern and to call for his immediate release to obtain specialised medical attention,” said Chamisa. 

“When icons like Nelson Mandela were held unjustly, the world spoke out against the brutal apartheid regime’s unjust treatment of him. This situation requires the same to be done urgently. For our part, we will continue to do all in our power to secure his release from detention. #FreeWiwa #FreeThemAll”. 

Arnold Tsunga, a human rights lawyer, principal managing partner at Tsunga Law International and convenor of civic space at Network-Africa, said Sikhala’s continued incarceration was a grave indictment on the criminal justice system of Zimbabwe. 

“Ordinary people can be excused to perceive that Job Sikhala is experiencing pretrial punishment in a way that seriously breaches the right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence. The Constitution of Zimbabwe, 2013 provides that every person accused of a crime has a right to a fair and public trial within a reasonable period of time before an independent and impartial court. Sadly, the way this case has been handled has created a possibility that the independence and accountability of key institutions in an effective and impartial criminal justice system is questionable, namely the Judiciary and the National Prosecuting Authority. I would urge the authorities to evaluate how this case has played out and assess the danger it presents of undermining public belief in the rule of law. The law should never be like a spider’s web, which only catches the weak and those not connected to the few who wield state power,” said Tsunga.

Sikhala’s son, Job Sikhala Junior (22), told Daily Maverick that his father began feeling unwell on Wednesday, 4 October, and told his legal counsel to hire a medical practitioner. “One of the doctors said that he has high blood pressure and they conducted a colonoscopy test. The results are not yet in,” he said. 

Sikhala said there had been no reaction from the Zimbabwean government to calls for his father’s release. “It seems every magistrate and judge is afraid of releasing him, this suggests there is a hidden hand somewhere controlling their judgement not to release him,” he said.

“What we do know is that his health is deteriorating because before he went to prison, his health was perfect,” Sikhala said. 

Sikhala said the incarceration had taken a toll on the family. “There has been loss of morale in the family and we miss that fatherly love, our security has been compromised, and our welfare has been affected,” he said. 

“As the firstborn child I am forced to fend for the whole family yet I am still in school. We have been reduced to beggars yet this should not be the case.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Free my dad, free Zimbabwe: An appeal from opposition MP Job Sikhala’s son

An appeal for funds and public support

A GoFundMe campaign has been created to help his family with day-to-day needs, and the medication that Sikhala needs. Sikhala said the fundraising attempts “are not going well” and that the leadership of the CCC should be more involved. “The leadership of the party must take an active role and take care of the family, but they are just silent and going about their business daily as if things are normal,” he said. 

The campaign aims to raise £5,000 and, at the time of publication, had raised £2,653.  

Nkomo said those in Zimbabwe who wish to donate, can do so directly to Sikhala’s wife, Ellen, via Ecocash using the number +263 779 496 669. 

Sikhala also called on the public to help. “The public can help by revealing to the government how supporters of the ruling party have been using public violence to achieve their goals, even maiming those who do not toe their party lines. Worldwide protests can be done to call for his release each time there are international meetings for African Union, SADC, United Nations, and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa,” he said. DM

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